In a sharp rebuke to Healdsburg officials and a victory for fluoride opponents, a Sonoma County judge has ordered the city to change its proposed language on a ballot question that asks voters to weigh in on use of the additive in the city’s water supply.
Judge William Harrison found the city’s wording “misleading, inaccurate and biased,” because it did not accurately convey the language of the petition that qualified for the November ballot.
Vice Mayor Gary Plass said Friday that he was “shocked and disappointed” by the ruling, but city officials said they do not plan to appeal.
As a result, the question put to voters will go beyond the simplified version approved by the City Council earlier this month: “Shall the City of Healdsburg stop fluoridating its water supply?”
Instead, the ballot language will more closely mirror what proponents asked for — that the practice be stopped until the city or manufacturers can supply proof that fluoride is safe to ingest.
It will ask voters whether a moratorium on water fluoridation be instituted until the “manufacturer of the fluoridating chemical provides information regarding identification of any contaminants in the fluoridating chemical batch, and a toxicological report and verification of safety for the fluoridating chemical.”
Dawna Gallagher, a staunch fluoride opponent and former Rohnert Park City Council member who spearheaded the lawsuit against Healdsburg, said “it’s a victory for the California Election Code and the people of Healdsburg who signed a petition thinking it was going on the ballot a certain way and the city changed it completely.”
Gallagher, a nutritionist, also led the failed 2014 ballot measure that sought a stop to water fluouridation in Healdsburg. The city’s voters resoundingly affirmed the practice, which Gallagher has said amounts to “drugging a population.”
She said all her group wants is for the city “to provide safety studies, or stop using something that’s not safe.”
She noted that fluoride opponents persuaded voters in Crescent City to approve a similar measure in 2012 and as a result, the city no longer fluoridates.
Most California communities add fluoride to the water along with about three-quarters of the public water systems in the United States. The practice is backed by most dentists and a long list of health organizations as an effective method to reduce cavities, strengthen teeth and benefit families that don’t visit a dentist regularly.
But critics claim it is a type of mass medication that can lower IQ, impede thyroid production and cause teeth pitting and discoloration. They cite warnings from officials with the American Dental Association cautioning against mixing fluoridated water in infant formula.
Healdsburg is the only city in Sonoma County to fluoridate its water supply, a practice voters approved in 1952.
Now, two years after fluoride opponents’ failed measure, they once again were able to gather sufficient signatures — a minimum 10 percent of registered voters — to place the issue back on the ballot.
The language approved by the court was slightly different from what petitioners first demanded — that manufacturers produce a list of contaminants and their amounts for each batch of the chemical produced. City officials said it would be prohibitively expensive, and therefore the initiative was misleading.
“You talk to manufacturers and distributors, they say you can never do this beyond a shadow of a doubt,” Plass said Friday. “The main question to the public is whether they want it or not.”
City utility officials said the sodium fluoride added to the water meets standards set by regulators, who do periodic tests for impurities, but not on every batch.